After retrieving our luggage from Victoria Station, we headed East to Basingstoke, an old English town east of London where one of M’s legendary mission companions live. Legendary because he is not only taller than M, but he is also Scottish and this was a unique and memorable asset for a missionary in Utah. I had heard many stories about Jamie Cairns and even his wife Lindsay, who was in the picture well before the mission. So this was quite a treat for me to visit the family, hear some mission stories, see some photos and videos of both spiritual and embarrassing moments for my husband in his youth.
The Cairns family let us stay with them for a couple nights. It was E’s birthday when we arrived, but we celebrated the occasion the next day by “strawb’ry pickin'” in the English countryside. She loved it so much that we might make strawberry picking an annual birthday tradition.
How do you decide what to do on your last day when there are still hundreds of things to see? With only half a day before we had to catch our bus out of town, we decided a museum or two would fit the bill. We started out at Trafalgar Square and said we would do a blitz of the National Gallery in 15 minutes. I spent at least 2 or 3 minutes looking at the mosaic floors in the foyer, though, so obviously it was a little longer than 15 minutes that we spent there.
I don’t know what struck me so much about this painting. I guess I don’t see black and white paintings very often. Sketches, sure, but a painting in grayscale really stood out to me. But then I was scolded for taking pictures and I had to put away my camera.
Quick as we could, we headed to Greenwich, hoping to climb to the observatory to watch the ball drop at 13.00. We got busy eating our lunch from Greenwich Market and totally missed it. We also missed everything else we were hoping to do in Greenwich, including E’s birthday treat, but we totally made up for it the next day. It’s ok. She didn’t even know it was her birthday.
It wasn’t until after we arrived in Oxford that we learned we had scheduled our day trip on prospective student day at the University. So even though we were actually willing to pay to tour some of the colleges, we were denied entry. Bummer. We even tried sweet talking our way in as parents of a prospective student who might enter in about 17 years. Nobody bought our story.
But as you can see, we were still privileged to view dozens of beautiful buildings and doors from the outside. We visited a cathedral. We visited the Ashmoelan Museum. We actually did get into the Divinity School. We visited the Oxford Castle, which is something of a restaurant now. We went to the farmers market like the locals. We picnicked on the canal. We shopped the antique stores. We watched a cricket game in an incredibly picturesque field surrounded by steeples and very old trees. I mean, it was a great day. Every step was picture worthy. I’ll just let the photographs tell the rest of the story.
Am I the only person who didn’t know about the Tower of London? Sure I’ve heard of the Tower Bridge, and I’ve seen Robin Hood dozens of times and I know that the kings lived in a castle and whatnot, but somehow it just didn’t occur to me that that castle is standing in the middle of London and it’s totally a thing tourists can do. I almost talked myself out of it because of the price, but the more I thought about our plans to see Romeo and Juliet at the Globe, the more I thought the play would wouldn’t work well with a baby. The play was supposed to be our one splurge, so we had a little room in our budget. Plus, we got some two-for-one tickets to the Tower of London, so we decided to make it happen. It was so worth it.
We began our tour with a yeoman guide, who told us a lot about the history of the tower, how many kings lived here, how many weddings and beheadings were here…you know, all the juicy details. Then we were free to wander. Many of the buildings inside the fortress are set up as museums with collections of armor, weapons, furniture, and the likes. We could have easily spent all day here, but we only scheduled half a day for it.
We also waited in the long line to see the crown jewels, which again I was surprised to be worth the wait and proved to be an interesting exhibit. The building houses all the crowns, robes, orbs and other royal getup. No photos allowed, but you can check them out online.
Now, I know M already mentioned this in his account, but it’s too good of a story not to tell again. You see, our greatest fortune of the day stemmed from our greatest regret: we didn’t think to use the public toilets at the Tower before we crossed the Tower Bridge. Once we were well on our way, we were also near fainting for lack of food in the hot sun, so we had to make a choice: hunt for a washroom or find some lunch. We chose food, assuring ourselves that we would find a bathroom on the way, but no such luck. So we picnicked with a lovely view of the bridge and the tower on the other side of the Thames, and then only had enough time to race back to Westminster Abbey for Evensong.
Evensong! What a treat. And the best way to view Westminster Abbey for free. We just told the guard we were here for the service, and we were allowed to file in to the chapel and grab a seat. It’s not just the price that made it so special, though. Most cathedrals are best viewed with live choral accompaniment, and this was just a dream. E slept through half of it and actually stayed pretty quiet through the rest, so we were able to enjoy it and keep from disturbing the other worshipers. As a bonus, the service honored Canadians in honor of Canada Day. We felt pretty privileged.
So we ended up back on the street, greeted by the roaming ads for the Book of Mormon musical that apparently was visiting London the same time we were. It’s now evening and we’re in desperate need of a toilet. We saw some pay toilets on the street but they required coins, of which we had none. We knew that museums were not only free, but they were equipped with public restrooms, but the trouble with museums is they close in the late afternoon. M took to his smartphone to find out if any museums were open late. We found a listing of the John Soane Museum with this note:
The Museum is lit by candlelight on the first Tuesday of each month, from 6 until 9pm. This event is extremely popular and many more people arrive than we can possibly get in to the house. For this reason, at 5.30pm we issue tickets to the first 200 people who arrive. Please use your own judgment to decide what time to arrive, as people always arrive earlier than any time we may suggest.
As luck would have it, this was actually the first Tuesday of the month. So we booked it up to Temple Station. We gawked at the justice building. We found more Canadian treasures:
And finally we found the museum. We had enough time waiting in line outside to take turns walking to Starbucks to use their bathroom (thanks!). And as the evening went on, we again found ourselves getting hungry, getting low blood sugar headaches, getting anxious. We almost left. But thankfully we didn’t. This museum was a gem of a find. It’s an architect’s own home and his personal collection of sketches and architectural models. He had architectural details, like gargoyles and the like. He had egyptian relics. He had paintings. It was horribly crowded with floor-to-ceiling collections of every kind. And lit by candles…it was pretty neat. And serendipitous that we made it there.
No photos were allowed inside, but check out the collection online here.
Afterward, we were on the prowl for dinner, but the neighborhood didn’t seem to have anything that looked satisfying. We made our way to St. Paul’s cathedral, hoping to find a bite nearby. Still no luck, but hey, we found a guitar. If I had known this cathedral was featured in Mary Poppins, maybe I would have played “Feed the Birds,” but instead I played “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”
It was a nice way to end a busy day before heading back to Holloway Road for an omelet and panini at a cafe down the street from our flat, and finally resting in bed.
Monday was conference day — the one obligatory work day that made our trip to London possible in the first place. This was my view from the bed in our apartment of our exquisite chandelier and M getting ready to go. It wasn’t too much later that E and I left to have some adventures without him.
I was lucky enough to meet up with a dear family that took me in for a few weeks during our transition from Boston to Calgary. We had to be out of our apartment on such and such a date, but I needed to stay for a conference three weeks later. So Rachel offered her basement to me during that limbo time. At the time, she had two boys, but she added a little girl to her family just a couple weeks before I did, and I was shocked when she announced the name of her daughter was the same name I had picked out for mine! So these two girls were born only a few days apart, and in two different countries, but I think their story makes them a bit like sisters.
I was thrilled to find out the Lambourne family was moving to London and arriving the day before us. It was so fun to meet up with them again. But I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture with them! All I have are some blurry shots of crawling baby girls. So such as it is, I’ll leave you with a couple of animated gifs.
The Lambournes favored me with a trip to the British Museum, which was really cool, but so so very crowded. Also I was like an hour late because I don’t even know why or how that happened. So we didn’t have a ton of time at the museum because they had an appointment to view a flat later in the morning. How lucky that I was invited to go with them!
The flat was in the Primrose Hill neighborhood. I read the description of Primrose Hill to Rachel from my London guidebook. It says it’s near Regent’s Park, Queen Mary’s Gardens, the London Zoo, and Baker Street. Do I dare admit my ignorance to say I didn’t know why Rachel got so excited over Baker Street? All I could think of was the saxophone solo. So I just nodded and filed that as something to look up later.
But I thought I would venture toward Baker Street anyway after we parted ways. I first walked past the zoo, hoping it would be free like the London museums, but no such luck. So on to Regent’s park I went until it started raining, and I thought I should duck for cover. And as I looked for a friendly awning, I did see Baker Street and I looked up and down trying to figure out what it could be famous for. I saw this grand building with an ominous cloud behind it and I thought it would be worthy of a photograph and maybe there’s a chance it’s famous?
No, I don’t know what that building was. But for any who are as clueless as me, I did come across the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street. Mystery solved.
Afterward, I still had some time to kill before meeting up with M, so I hopped on the Tube and just picked a stop to get off on. I picked Paddington because, why not? Well now that I’ve been there, I’ll tell you why not. There really wasn’t much to see. I didn’t even see any bears. So disappointing.
Finally, I went to meet M, and I found out he won the poster session! What a guy. Here’s a picture of him blinking (oops!) outside of a grandiose hotel near the British Library where his conference was.
This was our breakfast every day in London: Muesli–locally produced in Dorset, the region where we would spend our last two days in England–with milk and fruit. And a stack of bread for sandwiches on the go. Our evening meals were usually some veggies and rice or pasta, maybe some fish. A couple times we indulged at one of the immigrant-owned cafes near our apartment at Holloway Road. But the nice thing about staying in an apartment with access to a kitchen is you can actually cook your meals.
We attended the White Chapel Ward in the morning and picnicked on Regent’s Canal afterward. We made our way back to our apartment by way of a playground, changed our clothes, probably E took a nap while we were there. Then we headed back out on the town.
At Hyde Park we listened to a soapbox speech on Speaker’s Corner about animal rights. We toured the park. Did you know all the swans are owned by the queen?